Many say Ryan “RJ” Jones Jr. built an outstanding career in the nearly 10 years he has spent at The Rock.
But for several others, his journey has been tumultuous and, at times, disheartening.
Either way, RJ has made it to his senior year with many Division I schools seeking the services of the 6′ 9″ forward.
The Journey to Gainesville
Born in Lafayette, Ind., home of Purdue University, RJ lived in several states before coming to Florida when he was in third grade. Heading away for college is not a far-fetched idea.
“I kind of would like to go away for school, he said. “But I also really love Gainesville because of my family and Greenhouse Church.”
RJ and his family have attended Greenhouse Church for several years since moving to Gainesville. Now, RJ is a devoted leader in the youth group at the church.
Guided by Faith
At 6′ 9″, RJ stands out among many of his peers — but not just because of his tall stature.
RJ is a faithful follower of Jesus Christ.
In August 2022, RJ went on a mission trip to Cuba. This trip opened his eyes to the wonder of God’s Kingdom and his need to follow such a leader as Jesus, he said.
Since then, RJ has been a leader worth following in his community and school.
The Lion’s Heart Award
The Rock’s National Team honored RJ with the The Lion’s Heart Award in April 2023 in unanimous fashion. The award recognizes the player who best demonstrates the qualities and characteristics most desired within The Rock program. In most years, the vote is split among at least two players.
This year, the decision was easy for both players and coaches.
“RJ’s character is outstanding,” Coach Justin Harden said. “He is as consistent of a young man as I have ever coached. He loves God, follows Jesus, and isn’t afraid to do so. That is remarkable for a person and player of his stature.”
Successes & Challenges
Not referring to RJ’s physical stature, Coach Harden referenced the top-50 ranking that RJ earned in the ESPN senior class national rankings.
Unfortunately for RJ, this ranking has represented both a fall down the hill and an arduous climb back up.
In 2021, RJ earned a spot on the 16U USA Basketball team that won a gold medal that summer. The team showcased the top 12 to 15 athletes in the country, and RJ made an noticeable impact.
Only a few months later, he was in crutches and out of the top-100 rankings.
RJ tore his meniscus and needed surgery just five games into the 2021-22 season. After a grueling recovery and rehab, RJ was not considered among even the top 100 players in his grade.
But his faith did not waiver.
“I trust God,” he said. “I trust Him with the good and the bad. I think I will be better for it when it’s said and done.”
RJ played the majority of the 2022-23 season with some discomfort, but fought hard to earn back all the basketball that had been taken from him. The rankings would come in time, but RJ missed playing on the court with his teammates.
By the spring of 2023, RJ had risen back up to a top-50 player — not quite as high of a spot he once had, but also much, much higher than where he started the season.
RJ had shown enough people that he was a top national player once again, and several high-level programs around the country recruited him with consistency: Florida, Virginia Tech, LSU, Xavier, and Missouri.
These coaches see in RJ what they want in all of their players — a talented, hard-working player with high character.
Few athletes get to boast about receiving the attention and accolades that RJ has. But few can also take pride in triumphing over the hardships he has endured.
If RJ does happen to boast, he will certainly follow the words of Galatians 6:14 — “May I never boast about anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.”